Wives and Daughters, Paperback Book
4.5 out of 5 (4 ratings)


Wives and Daughters, Elizabeth Gaskell's last novel, is regarded by many as her masterpiece. Molly Gibson is the daughter of the doctor in the small provincial town of Hollingford. Her widowed father marries a second time to give Molly the woman's presence he feels she lacks, but until the arrival of Cynthia, her dazzling step-sister, Molly finds her situation hard to accept. Intertwined with the story of the Gibsons is that of Squire Hamley and his two sons; as Molly grows up and falls in love she learns to judge people for what they are, not what they seem. Through Molly's observations the hierarchies, social values, and social changes of early nineteenth-century English life are made vivid in a novel that is timeless in its representation of human relationships.

This edition, the first to be based in the original Cornhill Magazine serialization of 1864-6, draws on a full collation of the manuscript to present the most accurate text so far available.

ABOUT THE SERIES: For over 100 years Oxford World's Classics has made available the widest range of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford's commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, helpful notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 784 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication Date:
  • ISBN: 9780199538263

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Showing 1 - 4 of 4 reviews.

Review by

(Minor spoilers)I should not like Molly Gibson, I really shouldn't. Not from Gaskell's perspective obviously; presumably she wanted us to like her heroine. But from my perspective she is just too... moral. I like heroines who are witty, borderline bitchy (sometimes not so borderline), flawed, and never, ever sweet. Molly Gibson can't even tell a little white lie. She is an absolute sweetheart. And I think she's fantastic.So why do I like Molly Gibson? Firstly she is smart. It turns out you can be sweet without being stupid. Secondly, she is strong. It turns out you can be sweet without being insipid. Thirdly, she is open-minded. It turns out you can be a model of goodness yourself without being judgemental about others. (Fanny Price of Mansfield Park, please take notes on all of the above).Molly also bucks the trend by refusing to fall for a sexy cad or a romantic ideal (well, only briefly). Roger initially seems an unlikely love interest, but I grew to appreciate him at about the same speed as Molly and they do make a wonderful couple. (Edmund Bertram of Mansfield Park take notes on this - you can be honourable and sensible AND FUNNY AND INTERESTING). That Roger stupidly falls for the wrong girl is about his only wrong move, and Molly's attempts to be happy for him while realising her own feelings are heartbreaking.The main plot starts when Mr Gibson, whose first wife died when Molly was a small child, remarries. Molly's relationship with her father's new wife is perfectly drawn. Gaskell shows the frustration of an intelligent girl trying hard to keep her temper while showing respect and tact towards her shallow, irritating stepmother (a brilliant comic creation) without compromising her own views and values. The resulting father/daughter relationship seems very real and moving. It will be particularly relevant to anyone who is close to their own father.On the downside, the creation of stepsister Cynthia is less successful. I can't bring myself to like Cynthia (who is the witty, bitchy character - very confusing). Molly's immediate and lasting attachment to her is unconvincing. The sudden, unwise decisions Dr Gibson makes are also a weak point, albeit necessary for the plot. Speaking of plot, the terrible secret hinted at by Cynthia may have been shocking at the time, but frankly these days is a disappointment. Osbourne is annoying. And, despite everything I just said, Molly's perpetual good behaviour does sometimes irritate me.For a long time I didn't know that the book was unfinished. It ends on a perfect, open note. There are many reasons that I should not like this book, but somehow Gaskell overcomes them.Wow - that was a long review. I got quite involved.

Review by

so wish the author would have lived to finish the book, however it seemed it was about to end anyway. i think this is one classic that has been overlooked. gaskell's writing fits right in there with Austen and the Bronte sisters. such a charming book!

Review by

Wonderful!! Clearly a mature work, with beautifully-created, multi-faceted characters. I'm especially impressed with the depiction of Cynthia, in that she doesn't come across as merely a caricature of a beautiful and careless? young woman. She may be weak in certain ways, but she isn't bad or evil; she has characteristics that are endearing too, and in the end, one can't help but like her...as do all those in the book. I'm so sad that Mrs Gaskell died before she could finish it, even if we know what was going to happen at the end!

Review by

Where I got the book: free on the Kindle. Although I think I should pick up an annotated edition one of these days. It's not often I finish a book with a big smile on my face, despite the teasing ending (which had me seriously worried that my free Kindle version had something missing, but then I decided it was entirely consistent with the story). Update: Thanks to more informed friends, I now know that Mrs. Gaskell died before finishing the book, which is the biggest bummer I can possibly think of for a writer. This was my first Mrs. Gaskell and I'm now wondering, where has she been all my life? I think I learned more about the social mores of small-town England in the early 19th century (1830s according to Wikipedia) than I would have done from any number of history books. Mrs. Gaskell paints her details with a fine brush, wrapped up in an entertaining story with an undercurrent of wry humor. The narrative, for those who need reminding, tells the story of Molly Gibson, the daughter of the doctor in the aforesaid small town (or possibly large village). What's interesting to me is that the Gibsons, being of the professional class, occupy a kind of social gray area between the ordinary folk of the village and both the nobility, represented by the Earl of Cumnor's family, and the gentry, represented by the Hamleys. Not to forget a new class of Victorian gentleman ready to risk all in the name of exploration and Empire, given shape in Roger Hamley the squire's son. This means that Molly manages to achieve a degree of social mobility that would definitely have been quite startling at the time. To drive home the point, Mr. (never Dr.) Gibson goes and marries a shallow, self-centered social climber with the wonderful name of Hyacinth (Bucket, anyone?) who brings along her daughter Cynthia. We then have a family split neatly down the middle between the honest, traditional values of Olde England and the nouveau riche pretensions of an up-and-coming class who see the established gentry as a target for marriage (if only they have money to back up their good name). A nicely complicated plot ensues, with romance, secrets, scandals, and reconciliations. Really great stuff. I felt as if I should have been annoyed at Molly and Roger for being perfect to the point of saintly and the Embodiment of Honest English Virtues, but somehow I never was and found myself cheering them both on.

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